Too Sexy, Too Young

Brad M. Griffin | Jul 25, 2012

Sometimes I feel like were stuck listening to a broken record (or an mp3 player stuck on repeat track, if you dont remember what that expression means).

At FYI we study the ever-emerging landscape of adolescent research. One of the areas we keep an eye on is gender-specific research on teenagers. For young women, we try to track research on the pressure girls experience to look and act older, get cosmetic surgery, and wade through the mire of body image issues our culture places on their shoulders.

This phrase, too sexy, too young is one that seems to be a repeating mantra. For the past handful of years media, research, and the American Psychological Association have been exploring what has created this too-sexy-too-young phenomenon and what its impact is on both girls and guys.

In a new twist, a recent study explored the ways 6-9-year-old girls select paper dolls. In this study, researchers asked girls to self-identify with either a doll in a sexy outfit or a more modestly-dressed doll, based on multiple questions. The questions included which one looked most like herself, how she wanted to look, was popular in school and that she wanted to play with.

Girls overwhelmingly chose the sexy doll in response to most questions. As reported in Medical Daily based on the Sex Roles research journal article:

The results revealed that 68 percent of girls said that they wanted to look like the “sexy” doll and 72 percent said that the “sexy” doll was more popular than the conservative doll.

They also studied the interaction of mothers in this particular project, and found that moms own self-objectification contributed to choice of the sexy doll, whereas mothers who showed lower levels of self-objectification acted as a preventive factor. Similarly, religious mothers and those who discussed media viewing with their daughters tended to have daughters who chose the less-sexualized doll more often.

This issue is much bigger than what mothers can or cant do. At the same time, its encouraging to think about the ways parents and other significant adults truly do mediate the influence of powerful cultural forces.

I hope doll-makers and film-makers alike will pay attention to the ways their work impacts kids. But even more than that, I hope parents and other adults in kids lives will recognize the power of our own voice and example to help young people navigate all the messages they receive about body image.

Perhaps we can stop the broken record and do something to shift this disturbing trend.

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.

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